Cape scientist creates perfect miniature world

01 July 2015 - 09:33 By TANYA FARBER

A technological breakthrough at a Cape Town Institute has seen engineers come up with a tiny ecosystem that breeds fish, grows vegetables, and uses and saves solar energy. It can also grow the minds of young children in under-resourced communities and is already doing just that. Fareed Ismail, an engineer and lecturer at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology explains: “The fish are placed in round containers. Solar energy warms the water to the perfect temperature, while solar cells convert sunlight to electricity to power the pumps.”The water from the tank (with waste products from the fish) flows into a grow-bed where vegetables have been planted, and then circulates again. The vegetables grow, the fish keep breeding, and the solar power is stored in batteries for use at night. It is a small-scale sustainable system that could fit into a backyard.”The system is a mixture of hydroponics (a method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions, in water, without soil) and aquaculture (breeding of fish and other aquatic organisms) and is called aquaponics.“Introducing renewable energy is what makes it really unique,” explains Ismail, and the system can generate enough power to light up three bedrooms at night. In the local community of Belhar, where unemployment and overcrowding are rife, a prototype was set up at the community centre. Now, a major milestone is coming up: the fish are about to be introduced to the system which has already seen the successful harvesting of vegetables planted by small children from impoverished families.Rushan Lewis, 5, of Belhar, says: “My friends helped me. I made a hole in the stones and planted the vegetables inside. Then we washed our hands because we were going to eat after that. Then we saw the veggies grow and grow.”Ismail says, “The toddlers will grow up with this technology and understand there are other means to get energy - not just plugging into a wall socket and getting power out of it. They will also see symbiosis in action.”The ultimate plan is for the prototype at Belhar to be rolled out in other communities, and that will, says Ismail, “require financial partnerships and buy-in from communities”. With the correct plumbing, a single unit could also be extended to reach into neighbouring yards.

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